How does Shakespeare establish key themes in Romeo and Juliet?

My old English essay. Got A* for it!!! Enjoy!!!!

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Most of Shakespeare's plays are conceived around a foundation in either tragedy or comedy; this
polarity and contrast of themes allow him to experiment with the full extent of human emotions. The
story and language in `Romeo and Juliet' is rich in both of these themes- making the play one of the
most iconic love stories ever written. In this essay, I will discover how Shakespeare establishes the
key themes of `Romeo and Juliet' in Act 1.
`Romeo and Juliet' is perceived as one of the most distinguished and prominent tragedies in the
English language, where the two `star-crossed' lovers have become emblematic of doomed and
young love in modern society. Unlike many other love stories, the love portrayed in `Romeo and
Juliet' is not pretty or idyllic. It is passionate, fast-paced, exhilarating, chaotic and destructive. In Act I,
Scene IV, Romeo describes love as "too rude, too boisterous and it pricks like thorn". The
metaphorical language used is linked to the rose- a typical symbol of love. The petals of a rose are
colourful and attractive but the stem is scattered with thorns. This gives the message of that love can
create the sweetest moments in life but the intensity and brutality of it can destroy. Love is a strong
and powerful emotion which captures individuals and catapults them against the world and, at times,
against themselves.
In the course of the play, the strong feelings they have for each other both force Romeo and Juliet to
become social pariahs, defying their families and friends. But apart from their own romantic love,
love is portrayed in many different ways. Love to Lord Capulet is just a minor addition to a marriage
settlement. ("But woo her gentle Paris, get her heart/ My will to her consent is but a part". I.ii.16-17)
, to the Nurse it is simply a mechanism to produce children ("No less, nay bigger, women grow by
men") meaning that women are perfected by marriage when pregnant and to the servants Sampson
and Gregory, imagine love as entirely physical, sexual and ruthless: as they say in I.i. they will "thrust
maids to the wall" and take their "maidenheads". In Act I, Scene IV, Mercutio mocks Romeo's passion
for Rosaline with cynical bawdry. Shakespeare too makes fun of Romeo's unaffected, unreal
adoration for Rosaline: had he actually met her? Or simply adored her from afar? Romeo is depicted,
at the beginning of the play, as the `melancholy lover', enchanted by a disdainful lady, sighing and
weeping, shutting himself away from the world to mope alone but there is no indication whether
Romeo actually met Rosaline in the flesh. All these different ideas of love are contrasted with the
true and almost holy love between Romeo and Juliet, true love of mind, body and spirit, each giving
and each receiving.
Shakespeare also shows more than one aspect of love's opposite, hate, embodied in the fiery Tybalt
and the icy Lady Capulet. The Elizabethans divided people roughly into four types, depending on
which the four `humours' dominated in a man. He might be choleric, sanguine, melancholy or
phlegmatic. The ideal was to have equal quantities of each. Tybalt is not a complex character at all
and is composed of pure choler, perpetually angry, looking for and causing trouble. This is shown at
the moment when Romeo falls in love with Juliet, Tybalt vows to murder Romeo on the spot before
Lord Capulet intervenes ("Now by the stock and honour of my kin/to strike him dead I hold it not a
sin" I.v.54-55). When Lady Capulet appears in I.iii she seems cold, almost indifferent to her daughter,
and describes Paris in a very formal and emotionless speech(I.iii.81-94) But when Tybalt is killed, Lady
Capulet does show emotion. She demands the death of Romeo from Prince Escalus and then later
vows to Juliet that she will have revenge. Lady Capulet believes in `an eye for an eye and a tooth for
a tooth' and embodies the spirit of the feud. As the play progresses, the course of the love

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Romeo and Juliet correlates with the feud between the Montagues' and the Capulets', they
both, together, build to monumental occasions : As Romeo and Juliet are married, Mercutio and
Tybalt die. As Romeo and Juliet die, the strife between the two feuding families is buried. This makes
the duality between love and hate, violence and death a key theme in `Romeo and Juliet'.
The sense of fate and fortune permeates itself throughout the play and is introduced as a key theme.…read more

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The key themes, first introduced in the opening scenes of the play, are of a contrast and oxymoronic
nature. Light and dark. Day and night. Love and hate. It seems that the unifying theme of `Romeo and
Juliet' is in fact, duality. It is even expressed in Romeo's first speech ("O brawling love"/ "O loving
hate"/ "Heavy lightness"/ "Cold fire"/ "Sick health")
The play as a whole is a play which is fast-paced, chaotic and passionate.…read more


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